Corrections legislation signed; unemployment keeps going down

Governor signs Corrections data bill, “pollinator-friendly” legislation
The Governor signed another of my bills late last week, House Bill 4888. Under this legislation, the Department of Corrections (IDOC) is directed to better collect data which can be used by policymakers to reduce violence in state prisons. The better data will help us to understand if current programs for this purpose within IDOC are working. We can make better decisions about the success or failure of violence reduction programs if we have the most accurate and complete information possible about the subject. This new law helps us to collect the information we need to do so.

Another bill signed this week was Senate Bill 3214, which I sponsored along with Senator Jason Barickman. This legislation creates a “pollinator friendly” designation for certain solar energy sites in Illinois to create more habitats for honeybees. Honeybees play an important role in agriculture, and this new law will help to increase the number of pollinating insects in Illinois.

Unemployment rate continues to fall
The state’s unemployment rate fell to 4.2% in July, placing the figure at its lowest point in 18 years. The numbers also showed that our state’s economy created 3,700 new nonfarm payroll jobs in July. The new figure approaches the 4.0% figure which economists usually consider “full employment.” It also comes as a signal that Illinois is on a good path toward recovery from the Great Recession.

One interesting difference from other recent job reports concerns the fact that Illinois job creation growth was led by the manufacturing sector, which created 2,400 new jobs in July. New jobs were also created in leisure and hospitality (2,000 new jobs), and professional and business services (1,900 new jobs). There was a net loss of 1,700 public sector jobs.

Once again, however, the report was not all good news. Our 4.2% unemployment rate continued to slightly underperform the numbers posted by the nation as a whole. The nationwide unemployment rate was 3.9%. We still have work to do in order to improve our jobs climate and catch up with the national average. Illinois’ unemployment rate one year ago stood at 5.0%.

Tour of U of I research park
My thanks to everyone at the University of Illinois Research Park for showing me around on a recent tour. The park is a world class facility. It was wonderful to visit with the people at State Farm and AGCO while I was there. The Research Park has 2100 employees, 800 students, 120 businesses and $1 billion in venture capital and private equity financing. This Research Park recognizes and promotes critical partnerships between business, agriculture and education. It is critical to the future growth of Illinois!

How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,763,362,938 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.

Stopping by the Fisher Fair Board

Thank you to Marge Probasco and Jill Hardesty for the invitation to come to the Fisher Fair Board in Fisher. I was glad to hear about some the challenges and successes of putting a fair together. A lot of effort, time and persistence by many volunteers are needed to make a fair a success. Thank you for making it happen!

We have over 92 fairs in Illinois each year, touching many different communities. Governor Rauner recently approved approximately $16 million for county fairs, FFA, 4-H, Soil & Water and U of I Extension. That’s a great win for agriculture and for Illinois. I am grateful to have been selected recently as the “Legislator of the Year” by the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs (IAAF).

60-day grace period for FOID card renewals
Earlier this summer I told you about a developing backlog of renewal applications for FOID cards. Late last week, Governor Rauner signed legislation that will give Illinois gun owners a 60-day grace period to keep their FOID card active while their application for a renewal is being processed. The card will remain active even if the expiration date passes while the renewal is still in process.

Under the old law, a FOID card was deemed invalid if the renewal process was not completed before it expired. House Bill 4855 changes the law to give the Illinois State Police 60 business days, instead of 30 calendar days, to process renewal applications that are received in a timely manner.

The legislation also adds safeguards to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. The new law requires hospitals to report all mental health admissions to the Illinois Department of Human Services and clarifies the reporting standards to which hospitals are subject. By tightening the reporting standards the State Police can intervene more quickly to suspend a dangerous person’s FOID card.

Did You Know?
This Sunday, August 26th, is the 200th anniversary of the enactment of Illinois’ first state Constitution. The document formed the basis of the very first state government which presided over Illinois when it became a state in 1818. New state Constitutions were written in 1848 and 1870, before the current state Constitution, which was enacted in 1970.